Eyewitness News Investigates

DCYF releases review of Rhode Island Training School following several incidents

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families released a review of the training school following several violent and costly incidents that sent police to the facility earlier this year.

The DCYF, which oversees the juvenile detention facility, began the 60-day review in July at the request of Governor Gina Raimondo.

The report identified several issues, including system and equipment failures, staffing issues and a lack of programming for the juveniles. The review called for upgrades such as a new security system and fiber optic upgrades.

A dollar amount for the cost of the potential improvements was not released.

According to the document, the facility's strengths included "tools for assessing mental health, substance abuse and risk of recidivism."

DCYF Director Trista Piccola also referenced staffing issues as a concern. 77 juvenile program workers are on the payroll, but about a third are out with various injuries.

"It's a physically demanding job and we're working with some really difficult and challenging behaviors with our kids," she said. "So it's not going to be without injury or incident. But there's probably more work we can do around injury prevention."

Piccola said some changes are already implemented including consolidating two training school units into one. She credited that as a factor in reducing the number of assaults and disciplinary cases.

In the month of July, there were 87 disciplinary cases and 37 assaults. In September, that dropped to 32 disciplinary cases and nine assaults. It has not been decided yet if the consolidation is permanent.

The president of the union that represents training school juvenile program workers said the organization applauds some of the report's findings and actions taken by the administration, including hiring more staff, fixing the security fence and enhancing training.

But Stephen Shears also said consolidation is an issue, as is not allowing staff-members to be equipped with devices that might help them protect themselves.

"[Union members] has grave concerns about the administrations' plans to keep all populations consolidated in one building," Shears said. "The bottom line is that that Training School remains a dangerous place to work. Just last week a Juvenile Program Worker was assaulted and bit by a resident."

Piccola and Training School Acting Executive Director Kevin Aucoin also noted a change in the number of offenders and the charges they face now, compared to when the facility opened in 2009.

Back then, there were about 150 juveniles locked up there. Now, there are 64.

"The nature of the charges against the youth are more serious today," Aucoin said. "The youth that are in the facility need to be in the facility for the community's protection and the protection of themselves quite frankly."

A series of reported outbursts started in May, when four training school staff members were allegedly assaulted by juvenile residents. One juvenile program worker was taken to the hospital with a broken jaw and a broken eye socket.

In July, eight were injured in what was described as a "wild melee" by eyewitnesses.

Three staff members and two juveniles were transported to the hospital and released later that night. Investigators said three other staff members sustained minor injuries that did not require hospitalization.

After that, the president of the program workers' union, Jerry Minetti said the level of violence at the training school is "totally out of control."

Rhode Island State Police charged eight juveniles following the July assault case.

Also, during a two month period earlier this year, there were seven vandalism incidents involving the training school's fire suppression sprinkler system. The vandalism caused about $50,000 in damage, according to the DCYF.

The sprinkler heads were then slated to be replaced with a different type that was said to be more destruction-resistant, at an expected cost of between $50,000 and $60,000.

Then in August, the detention center's executive director Kevin McKenna stepped down, as the review was ordered for the facility that houses juveniles who are awaiting adjudication or already convicted of various crimes.

Ironically, as the assorted instances were compiling, a 46-year long federal consent decree on the training school was lifted, only days before the July melee.

The decree was ordered in 1972, calling for changes to solve a number of issues that included problems with counseling, drug rehabilitation and solitary confinement.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau

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